Ninety minutes’ drive north of Oslo and on the shore of Lake Mjøsa lies the town of Hamar, where six of Meer’s eight members attended the same high school.
Seldom does a band make as much positive progress between its first and second albums as Meer. Five years ago their eponymous debut showed promise but made barely a ripple, leaving guitarist Eivind Strømstad downhearted. “We got some positive feedback, but the album was dead on arrival really,” he now admits.
Nevertheless Meer persevered, spending four years making follow-up Playing House and retaining all their members. Remarkably, since evolving from Ted Glen Extended, which was founded by Strømstad and vocalist Johanne Kippersund Nesdal in 2008, Meer’s line-up has remained unchanged since 2012.
“We like to think of ourselves as a calm ocean with lots of stuff happening beneath,” Strømstad says of the band’s music. It’s an apt description for Playing House, whose immediacy belies the significant depth displayed by 11 truly outstanding songs, in turn providing an early album of the year contender.
“It’s really easy to enjoy if you’re just up for easy listening, but very rewarding if you want to dive deep and listen to all the intricacies,” Strømstad continues. As such, Playing House is some distance removed from Meer’s origins as Ted Glen Extended, who focused on performing “jazzy covers” and released a sole EP (Ted Glen Extended EP) back in 2012.
Having morphed into Meer, the band had no set aims stylistically when they embarked upon recording their debut. “We never set out to make a prog album but we got a response from the prog audience. I’m a prog head myself, so perhaps it was inevitable,” Strømstad explains. “As a teenager I was ridiculously into Pain Of Salvation – it was my religion until my early 20s. I’m also a big fan of Opeth and Devin Townsend.”
The band’s vocalists, Johanne and her younger brother Knut (a former Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest finalist), are however more pop and classic rock oriented. Johanne also fronts Paper Crown, while the rhythm section leans towards jazz. With a classically trained keyboard player who grew up playing gospel music, plus a violinist and a viola player, Meer deploy eclectic talents and influences. “It’s quite messy sometimes!” says Strømstad about Meer’s collective writing sessions. “But it’s great when it works.”
In his opinion Playing House is “more rocky and modern sounding” than its predecessor. “On the first album we struggled to capture the energy we generate at our concerts,” he explains. “We did that better this time and recorded the rhythm section live in the studio.”
Ironically, having captured that energy, Meer are currently limited in their promotion of Playing House. Previously the band have performed principally in Norway, venturing to Sweden and Germany on a couple of occasions. “When things open up we want to play as many places and for as many people as possible!” the guitarist declares.
This article originally appeared in Prog 119.